Breigha: how to do the work thing
Breigha Morrison (Linguistics and English Language 2021) writes about her experiences fitting into the world of work. Is working 9 to 5 everything that she thought it would be?
Current treasured object: Giant oversized hooded blanket (practically my second skin at this point and very much needed in my baltic, barely single-glazed tenement flat).
Song of the moment: The Only One by The Black Keys
First thing I noticed when I woke up: Sunshine! My flat overlooks the Meadows and today was the first sunny day in a while so it was the busiest I’ve seen it in ages.
I graduated with a first class degree in Linguistics and English Language last year but have really struggled to access the graduate job market and have subsequently spent my first six months post-graduation working full time as a bartender and part time as a dog walker.
I am a Project Administrator Graduate Intern for Graduate Career Advantage Scotland (GCAS). It is the first office-based 9 to 5 job I have ever had. I feel very relieved to have gotten this job and to finally begin taking the first steps in my career, especially in the current climate. It also feels nice to be working for GCAS whose purpose is to help graduates get into rewarding employment. I really do feel like I’m making a difference to other people in the same position as me.
Is an office like ‘The Office’?
It has definitely been a culture shock as, up until three weeks ago, my only perceptions of working in an office had come from literally watching ‘The Office’ and, as a young girl, the occasional trip to my parents’ workplace (which largely involved spinning round on office chairs and persuading the janitor to let me take a wee something from the vending machine).
My work experience up until this point has been primarily based in the hospitality and customer service industry with a seemingly endless stream of waitressing and bartending jobs. I’ve also volunteered at a local Pictish museum, spent a wonderful summer as a camp counsellor in New Hampshire, worked as a lifeguard at my school’s pool, volunteered as a classroom assistant at my local Gaelic primary school, and, most recently, spent the past year as a freelance dog walker/sitter (which really is the best job in the world).
As rewarding as most of these roles have been, I have always craved the structure, the routine, and possibly even the mundanity of a 9 to 5 office job.
When I got my first job in a hotel restaurant at the age of 15. I remember it being so quiet on one of my first shifts that, rather than standing around doing nothing, I went and sat in a corner and proceeded to crack on with my homework. When I was caught, my manager was apoplectic and, yet, I couldn’t for the life of me see what the problem was. In hindsight, of course that was an inappropriate thing to do on shift, but it’s so difficult to know what the dos and don’ts and unspoken rules of a totally alien workplace are.
Of course, I absolutely feel like an imposter sometimes, not helped by the fact that the pandemic seems to have stolen two years of my life and I still feel about 19.
I was worried about so many things
I was worried that everyone would be decades older than me with far more experience and wouldn’t want to engage with me. I was worried that everyone would have children and I wouldn’t be able to relate to them. I was worried that everyone would be very serious and no one would want to have a laugh at work, and most of all, as a notorious people pleaser, I was simply worried that no one would like me.
To my relief, I have been treated as an equal since day one and everyone has been endlessly welcoming, chatty and kind to me, especially my wonderful line manager. Of course, I absolutely feel like an imposter sometimes, not helped by the fact that the pandemic seems to have stolen two years of my life and I still feel about 19. However, I’m extremely lucky to have started at the same time as three other interns who are all recent graduates with limited office experience.
One of the other interns is in the office with me too and you cannot imagine my relief when he revealed that this was his first “proper” 9 to 5 job too. We furtively expressed our concerns to each other about whether we were overdressed or underdressed and whether we were allowed to swear or whether we were doing enough work.
We’re still getting to grips with lunchtime etiquette and always guarantee that we’re going to meal prep for the next day but constantly forget and are forced to sample the plethora of good takeaway options on Forrest Road instead.
Having a kindred spirit here with me in the workplace has been paramount for easing my imposter syndrome. I also like to remind myself that I belong here as much as anyone else and that they wouldn’t have hired me if they didn’t believe I could do this job.
But equally, I love being able to work from home in my pyjamas and make myself elaborate homemade lunches with my flatmates and keep on top of my chores around the house – it’s all about balance.
It’s all about balance
I had a few preconceptions before starting the role that have proven true; for example, I knew that no longer having to work weekends would bring me endless amounts of joy – and it has! I also knew that sitting down for seven hours a day would be a bit of an adjustment, and my back can definitely attest to that.
However, something I hadn’t expected was the flexibility of this job: I can take my lunch break whenever I want, I can work from home as often as I want, and I can somewhat choose my hours, because there is the trust here that I will get the job done.
This is also my first proper experience of hybrid working and I have chosen to do three days in the office and two days at home. I really enjoy the formality of the office: the chance to dress up a bit nicer, the increased productivity of actually working at a desk with others, the time to properly catch up with my colleagues, the ceremonial closing of the laptop followed by the walk home which definitively signifies the end of the working day.
But equally, I love being able to work from home in my pyjamas and make myself elaborate homemade lunches with my flatmates and keep on top of my chores around the house – it’s all about balance. I do find it difficult to switch off at home though as I just work from the desk in my room so the line between working and free-time can become a little blurred. To counteract that, I try hard to put away my work laptop at 5pm and only use my personal laptop outwith working hours. As soon as I log off, I also try to leave the flat by going for a walk or to the gym or even just to the shop, and that really does help me to switch off.
It has been hard to stay motivated as a graduate in the pandemic; I felt trapped in my bartender role for months as I just couldn’t seem to get any interviews, and I felt frustrated with myself because this wasn’t where I envisaged I would be after university.
Most of my friends have been in a similar period of post-graduation limbo so, although I was struggling to find a job I wanted until now, I never really felt left behind: out of my four flatmates, two of them are in postgraduate education, one is currently unemployed, and the other has just had his contract renewed after six months in a kickstart scheme.
And in terms of my extended friend group, apart from those in occupational teaching and nursing roles, only a handful have managed to break into the graduate job market and lots are in hospitality or retail roles.
It has been hard to stay motivated as a graduate in the pandemic; I felt trapped in my bartender role for months as I just couldn’t seem to get any interviews, and I felt frustrated with myself because this wasn’t where I envisaged I would be after university. I
t has taught me a number of valuable lessons though, mainly that having a degree won’t automatically lead me to my dream job, and that it’s important to be patient and adaptable because a good role will come along when you least expect it.
My role with GCAS ends in July and, after that, my (tentative) plans are to live and work in Australia for a couple of months.
I’ve decided not to plan any further than that as I’ve learned from my experience as a post-pandemic graduate that nothing is guaranteed, and to instead take each day as it comes and trust that I will be where I need to be.
How to become professional
Find out more about the skills you need to move into the professional world and thrive by visiting the Careers Service Graduate website.
You can find out more about:
- Moving into work
- Commercial awareness
- What you can bring?
- Being proactive
- Time management
- Getting the most out of your manager
- Relationship management
- Business appropriate communication
Graduate Career Advantage Scotland – GCAS is a new initiative which supports recent, eligible graduates living in Scotland to find rewarding employment. We offer careers support and access to high-quality paid internships by collaborating with employers, universities, and other key agencies.